Rudi Zygadlo Rudi ZygadloGreat Western Layment
There is no logical way to describe the sound that Rudi Zygadlo manages to get out of the bowels of his computer. The best I can do is come up with an endless list of small details that become significant once they are seen as a part of the whole. For example: arpeggios, a lot of arpeggios, simulated fingers that run up and down the frets of a virtual guitar trilling delirious scales, the voice of a goldfinch forced into a falsetto somewhere between Prince and Thom Yorke, lashes of electric bass that sound funky like George Clinton one minute and dubstep like Benga the next, Cubist structures that break the lines of harmony and defy the laws of mental architecture, sounds like those of an upset stomach that is trying to get out of the body by climbing out through the oesophagus, and children’s choirs with an air of the Chipmunks. We could go on with the stream of freaky impressions that listening to “Great Western Layment” produces, but it’s not really necessary, you’ve read enough to know that we’re talking about something different, something that challenges, if not the rational, at least the habitual. Because deep down, what this debut from Rudi Zygadlo (a new figure, in the wake of Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and the heads of the Wireblock and stuffrecords labels, emerging from the multifaceted Glasgow electronic scene) really wants is to be a pop album. It is one, because practically everything starts with a voice, his voice, which is between the sharp timbre of a whistle, at times even sounding like he’s on helium, and the sexy smoothness of male R&B vocalists. Everything else is adding tons of noise, dubstep, abstraction, and IDM so that these songs that start our normal end up being extraordinary.They say on Planet Mu that Zygadlo does pop like nobody else. And in the end, it’s true—no other record that is out seems like this one as a whole, although analysed minute by minute, it reminds you of infinite influences, starting with Skream (the instrumental segment of “Magic In The Afternoon,” with a somewhat unimaginative wobble in the bass) and ending with Frank Zappa , with his trust in caricature, a gross sense of humour, and slipping themes from progressive music into a type of song that wouldn’t naturally allow for such a weighty load. What Zappa did with rock, besides making fun of its simplicity (he always felt himself to be a contemporary composer), was dress it up in technical exaggerations, solos, and mocking voices, with disparate influences. Zygadlo takes this way of doing things to pop, to songs, layering information and details. For example, look at “Stop / Reject” — in a way, it’s a transplant of the “Discovery” (Daft Punk) universe to dubstep, with harps, progressive chords, and notes from the soundtrack of an erotic move, and yet no one would disagree that it belongs to the genre of IDM. Or “Missa Per Brevis,” which because of its title in Latin might be religious music, but which takes shape from notes of sax, soft-rock, and analogue heaviness verging on kitsch. Zygadlo swings between irony and seriousness, working out the tracks to renounce any over-seriousness without crashing to a halt the momentum of an indiscriminate experimental avalanche. In fact, keeping in mind that an “Oversteps” only comes once in awhile, the most intelligent thing in (ehem) “intelligent” electronic music is to forget the commonplace of the genre, the vaporous melody and puzzle of abstract sounds and rhythms, and try to re-launch it again from other genres.Rudi Zygadlo has landed like a spaceship in the terrain of angular music—he’s got a different concept from Detroit’s Jimmy Edgar, although he may remind us of him, and the results may not be so different. But the difference is evident: Edgar started from electro and R&B to bring a new swing to IDM; he was like Aphex Twin trying to be Timbaland, and he wanted to sound tangled and broken, but at the same time very sexy. Zygadlo is starting from prog-rock, 80’s AOR, and in a way, the electrofunk of bands like Cameo and Zapp, to twist the very foundations of dubstep, at times with a desire to sound rich, panoramic, sharp. “Something About Faith” has something that reminds me somehow of Boxcutter, although they have nothing to do with each other. At other times, he isn’t afraid to fall into the ridiculousness of the tacky, like in “Layman’s Requiem,” which, with its 80’s hyper-production, could be a perfect song for the Citinite label.All of this can only be understood one of two ways: either Rudi Zygadlo is a genius, or he’s a kind of schizophrenic who is incapable of choosing a single genre and sticking to it. The reality is that he’s neither one. He has talent, of course, but he doesn’t reinvent anything; he’s just skilful at finding unheard-of permutations, some of them far-out, and at getting everything to work out. He also seems crazy, but his whole sound design is very well studied, he doesn’t leave anything to improvisation—he gets it all to come together with the necessary coherence. But “Great Western Layment” —the title of the album refers to the area of Glasgow where he lives—is torrential, at times chaotic, and ambiguous about its intentions. It doesn’t seem ironic, but can you be sure it isn’t? It’s the first step towards a second LP that will be even better and more surprising. Let’s hope the label sells it with aspirin, though.